Indonesia-Thailand rivalry prepares for high stakes climax clash
JAKARTA/BANGKOK - A storm has been brewing in Group A of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers ever since the group draw was completed. While the spotlight glared on the pairing of the Philippines and Korea, the longtime rivalry between Thailand and Indonesia also generated buzz.
The two Southeast Asian nations have a lengthy history of awesome clashes against each other, especially in the past decade. With the upcoming Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers window set to feature the first of two games between the two teams, let's take a look back at their heated history!
Rude house guests
As two nations in the same vicinity, Indonesia and Thailand have had many opportunities to face each other on the hardwood. The matchups have gotten more intense in the recent years, dating back to 2011.
At the Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) 2011 hosted in Indonesia, Thailand had battled their way to face the hosts in the Semi-Finals. Both squads featured an amazing level of talent, resulting in a closely contested game. This would become a trend.
Thailand were able to claim a win over the home team in this matchup, 65-62, on their way to a silver medal.
Two years later, Indonesia again played hosts for the SEABA Championship 2013. And once again, the two teams faced each other with high stakes on the line.
Indonesia were able to avenge their previous loss and fended off Thailand in an exciting 89-88 overtime win… but an earlier loss to Malaysia resulted in their failure to finish as the top two teams of the tournament. This meant that they would fail to qualify for FIBA Asia Cup 2013.
"Timnas" had to watch Thailand celebrate winning their SEABA Championship gold medal as well as tickets to the biggest stage of competition in Asia - on their home court.
The rivalry cooled down for a few years, but it didn't take long for the fire to be reignited.
Both teams had brought their top squads along for the SEABA Championship 2017 in Manila, Philippines, in search of a statement win. The Philippines were still at the top of region, but it was a close race for the title as the next contender in line.
The game went down to the wire again and after Sorot Sunthonsiri's midrange jumper gave Thailand a 59-58 lead with less than a minute to go, it seemed as if Thailand would come away with another win.
However, Indonesia would not roll over and take the loss. Mario Wuysang went coast-to-coast on the immediate play after to knock down a midrange jumper of his own with Sunthonsiri defending him to give Timnas the 60-59 lead for good.
"I felt sad and regretful [of that moment]," said Sunthonsiri. "That was my defensive assignment and I couldn't defend him."
The win sealed the silver medal for Indonesia at the event and gave them the rivalry bragging rights heading into their next game.
It took only 3 months later for the teams to meet, this time at SEA Games 2017 in Malaysia. The setting was once again an intense battle for a ticket to the gold medal game.
To no one's surprise, the game was tightly contested all the way down to the final seconds. Behind the superb play of Tyler Lamb and Chitchai Ananti, Thailand had clawed their way to a 74-73 with barely a minute left.
But it was once again the calm presence of Indonesia's veterans that took over in the clutch. This time, it was Arki Wisnu who made a layup in traffic to put Indonesia back up ahead. They never looked back until the final buzzer.
For a second straight time, Indonesia had outplayed Thailand in the waning minutes.
For Thailand, this was more than just rubbing salt into a fresh wound. This was pure pain.
Returning the favor
The new qualification process for Asia Cup 2021 meant that the next edition(s) of this rivalry would come earlier than usual.
Once the field was set for the Asia Cup 2021 SEABA Pre-Qualifiers to be played in Thailand, all eyes were locked on the June 29, 2018 match up between the two rivals. Four teams would qualify to the next round, which meant that the results of the game weren't as high-stakes as usual.
Nonetheless, it was a battle for pride.
"For sure, the game against Indonesia is the one I'm waiting for," Thailand's star Tyler Lamb said ahead of the tournament which would be his FIBA debut. "I felt that we had the chance to win in our past games, but we just couldn't finish well."
Hosts Thailand fell behind early 30-13 in the first quarter, but rallied with the home crowd at their backs to make it a close game as expected. A Patipan Klahan dunk gave Thailand a 4-point lead with just 40 seconds to go and Thai fans were starting to prepare the celebration confetti.
The celebration came to a screeching halt as Xaverius Prawiro knocked down a three-pointer shortly after. A dream ending turned into a nightmare for Thailand when Klahan turned the ball over on the next play.
Indonesia gained possession with 20 seconds to go, drew a foul on Lamb, and completed the come-from-behind with on two ice-cold Jamarr Johnson free-throws. The scoreboard read 75-74 in favor of Indonesia as it was now their turn to celebrate on their rival's home turf.
"Absolutely. We have something to prove because the last two major tournaments, they beat us," Douglas Marty, then Thailand's head coach had said at the SEABA Pre-Qualifiers.
"I would say it's not a rivalry until we can beat them but we do want to beat them. We have something to prove against those guys."
Six month later after another agonizing loss to Indonesia at home, Thailand would have their shot to exact revenge at the Asia Cup 2021 East Region Pre Qualifiers. They were hosts once again and it seemed pretty clear that the two would eventually cross paths.
The stage was finally set on December 1, 2018 as the two teams progressed through the competition. Both teams were already on track to qualify for the Asia Cup Qualifiers, but this duel was once again a matter of pride.
The home team held the lead in the first half, but Indonesia stormed back to command the ledge heading into the final interval. As scheduled, the teams went toe-to-toe in the last 10 minutes and kept everyone on the edge of their seats.
Despite Moses Morgan's 35 points for Thailand, Indonesia held on with the brilliant play of Arki Wisnu. The seasoned veteran had 17 points of his own and secured a 71-65 victory for Timnas.
In the span of just 2 years, Thailand had played against Indonesia in a total of 4 major competitions… and lost all games in heartbreaking fashion.
The next stage was familiar. Indonesia had already beaten Thailand at the Mall of Asia Arena in the Philippines at the SEABA Championship 2017. Here they were, once again, facing each other on the same court in 2019 at the SEA Games.
They didn’t have to wait for too long to match up, as the scheduled pitted them in the very first game which was highly anticipated by fans throughout the region.
There would be no drama this time as a revamped Thailand, now led by head coach Chris Daleo, jumped out of the gates to a 34-17 lead at the end of the first quarter. All Thai players got on the scoreboard as they led from nearly start to finish to exact their revenge and release their bottled-up frustration.
The victory allowed Thailand to finish first place in their group and eventually led to a successful run to claim the silver medal.
These two teams have obviously faced each other in high pressure situations, going back and forth on each other's turfs. The next installment of the saga is set to be written in this upcoming window of the Asia Cup Qualifiers.
And the stakes might have never been higher.
Both Indonesia and Thailand suffered losses in the first window, currently leaving them as the bottom two teams in Group A. In order to keep their hopes of qualifying for Asia Cup 2021 alive, securing a win against their long time rivals is virtually a must.
Thailand vs Indonesia. Who will claim one of the biggest games the two teams will play in this qualification process?